After Paul Pogba became the most expensive player in the world last summer it was unavoidable that he would court plenty of attention, both positive and negative. Every mistake he made was scrutinised during his first season, with people referring to his price-tag whenever he was guilty of a below par performance.
Having been called out for failing to show up in the big games, which is a largely true analysis, Pogba waited until the biggest match of the season to make his mark.
The Europa League final ultimately decided whether Jose Mourinho’s debut campaign was a success or a failure. Finishing sixth and winning the EFL Cup was a poor return, yet if United could add the Europa League trophy to their cabinet – and with it secure Champions League qualification – then arguably only Chelsea could claim to have had a better season.
Not only did he score the opening goal, he also commanded the midfield. The Ajax players couldn’t live with him and he emerged as the player United fans had been waiting for him to show the world he could be.
We had seen better performances than this from him, watching him week in and week out, but this was when he announced to everyone else exactly what he was capable of in a United shirt in front of the world.
After the final whistle, he danced his way over to the away end, much to the enjoyment of the travelling fans who had invested their hard-earned to be there. Yet for many people, United supporters included, Pogba’s exuberance is not appreciated.
“What would Roy Keane have made of that?” is the popular response to most things that the Frenchman does without a football at his feet.
With the greatest of respect to the greatest captain this country has ever seen, who gives a toss?
We used to love the Sharpey shuffle, but apparently Pogba’s dabbing is too much? We didn’t take issue with Ryan Giggs’ celebration with Paul Ince, but the “game has gone” because Jesse Lingard and Paul have a choreographed handshake? Get over yourselves.
Even Sir Alex Ferguson was able to adapt to the shift in the behaviour of footballers, and he was 71 by the time he retired. If a pensioner from Govan can get it, why is it so difficult for so many others?
“Young people today have an image of themselves and they need to be seen, so they have these tattoos and earrings, Ferguson said in 2010.
“It’s a different world for me so I have had to adapt.”
Anderson was allowed his long hair and David Beckham was allowed his Alice bands because Ferguson, even if begrudgingly, accepted that these grown men had the right to look and express themselves as they wished.
Which brings us back to Pogba, who is still nursing the blow of being left out of Garth Crooks’ expertly crafted Premier League team of the week.
He has been known to employ the frequently used 3-1-1-5 formation when choosing his best XI, while also playing Kevin De Bruyne as a holding midfielder and Alexis Sanchez as left wing-back.
The former professional footballer, who had a stint at United on loan in the 1980’s, now makes a living out of being a pundit for the BBC.
Following United’s 2-2 away draw to Stoke, in Crook’s justification of including Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting in the team of the week, there was a bizarre rant aimed at Pogba.
“I also want to discuss Paul Pogba’s new hairstyle, which features a red streak,” Crooks said. “I only mention it because he clearly wants to bring it to our attention. There is so much for the midfielder to do at United and he still insists on behaving like an adolescent.”
When David Silva shaved his hair down to the skin a few weeks ago, was he attention seeking and behaving like a child? What about the whole host of white players who bleach their hair, or Cristiano Ronaldo having lines shaved in to his?
— Adikara Galang Asp (@galangaspirasi) September 11, 2014
When Freddie Ljungberg dyed his hair red it prompted chants of “we love you Freddie because you’ve got red hair” but Pogba’s ‘do suggests a bad attitude?
“Granted, a hairstyle is not going to determine how well he can control a ball or make a pass, but it does say something about where his mind is at the moment,” Crooks continued. “If you are going to attract attention to yourself on a football pitch do it with goals and performances, not cheap gimmicks and marketing tricks.”
Good of Crooks to acknowledge that this hair cut has literally no impact on his ability to play football, which is all any of us should really care about anyway.
Even if we look past what a bizarre overreaction this is to a haircut though,
you have to wonder why other players, namely white ones, are allowed to express themselves however they like without it being insinuated they are less of a professional.
Beckham has had more haircuts than you’ve had hot dinners, and while this was talked about a lot, what with him being the most famous footballer in the world and all, his dedication to the sport was never doubted as a result. He could have his hair in god-awful cornrows if he wanted, look ridiculous, but nobody questioned where his mind was at.
With the language of pundits used when talking about black footballers already skewed, even when offering faux-praise for Pogba being “strong” and “athletic” when his most obvious talent is his beautifully skillful and quick feet, alongside his vision and ability to bring that vision to life.
Crooks’ decision to single out United’s midfielder only emphasises the troubling relationship the media has with black footballers.
Don’t think just because Crooks is black himself that he can’t get dragged down in to what has become a normality when talking about footballers who aren’t white.
Remember when Raheem Sterling made front-page news, with the headline ‘Obscene Raheem’, showing pictures from inside his mansion? After all, why should a young, black man, who has worked hard to find himself in a career that makes him a millionaire, be allowed to spend the money he has earned on a nice house?
— Sky News (@SkyNews) June 29, 2016
Why is it impossible for Romelu Lukaku, a player who managers and teammates alike have often described as being keen to learn, intelligent and “a thinker”, to thank his brains rather than his power for scoring the ridiculous number of goals he has? Just a reminder – he’s currently on 10 goals in eight appearances for club and country this season.
Sadly, Pogba limped out of United’s Champions League game against Basel last night, red streak still on show.
Maybe Crooks can blame the injury on his haircut too? If only he took the game more seriously and left his hair alone, he wouldn’t have left Old Trafford on crutches.
In the once most expensive player ever – who now looks cheap – we have one of the greatest midfielders of his generation. He has everything in him to dominate European football for the next decade. He’s a brilliant footballer, and the fact that he has style, can dance and has a personality should only add to his appeal.
Yet there are people out there longing for the blandness of players like Michael Carrick, James Milner or Steven Gerrard, with haircuts their mother could have given them as kids, who have the odd wacky moment and people think it’s proper lols.
Give me Pogba any day of the week.